The Communist Party (CP) and the Popular Front (PF) have jointly torpedoed Moldova’s economic reform program and external financing and brought down the country’s reformist government. The Communists hold forty seats and the Popular Front–which styles itself as right-wing–nine seats in the 101-seat parliament. These two parties plus several individual deputies loyal to President Petru Lucinschi have formed a new parliamentary majority and are now putting together a new cabinet of ministers, to replace the ousted one headed by Ion Sturza. The political disarray may exacerbate the country’s economic crisis and turn it into a humanitarian crisis in the coming winter.
On November 4-5, the CP and PF deputies successfully blocked government legislation to privatize Moldova’s wine-producing and tobacco-processing sectors. These are Moldova’s principal industries, with enormous production and export potential–they accounted for up to one-third of the former Soviet Union’s marketable output–and are currently in a state of collapse. The Communists opposed the privatization on straight doctrinal grounds; the Frontists feel that potentially viable economic sectors ought to remain under state control and be taxed at the state’s discretion, rather than being turned over to foreign owners. The legislation fell through, and the vote showed that the governing coalition had been reduced to a minority. Under the Moldovan parliament’s rules, the deputies cannot return to this matter until the next legislative session this coming spring.
In response, the Chisinau missions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) announced that the two organizations have decided to suspend the disbursement of credits earmarked for Moldova. The missions pointed out that the long-overdue privatization of the wine and tobacco sectors constituted a centerpiece of the IMF’s and WB’s programs of cooperation with Moldova. The two mission chiefs remarked at press conferences that the antiprivatization deputies had been well aware of the fact that IMF and WB lending is contingent on the enactment of that and other reform legislation prepared by the government. The parliamentary vote indicated a “policy turnaround” and political instability in Chisinau, the IMF and WB missions observed. As an immediate consequence, Moldova is forfeiting US$65 million worth of credits which had been due before the end of 1999, and throws into serious question the lending planned for next year. The country can ill afford such loss of vital financing.
On November 9, the newly constituted parliamentary majority toppled the Sturza government through a no-confidence motion. Fifty-eight deputies–including the forty Communists, nine Frontists and nine propresidential defectors from the governing parties–supported the move. The Sturza government resigned while its constituent parties announced that they are preserving their coalition and will oppose a Communist-Frontist government. Sturza’s coalition–the Alliance for Democracy and Reforms (ADR)–consists of the “centrist” Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova (MDPM) headed by Parliament Chairman Dumitru Diacov, the right-of-center Party of Rebirth and Conciliation (PRC) of former president Mircea Snegur and the right-wing Party of Democratic Forces (PDF) which is an offshoot of the 1989-1991 independence movement. Weakened by the latest defections, the three parties now control a total of some 35 to 40 of 101 parliamentary seats.
The Sturza government, in office since March of this year, pursued a pro-Western orientation and managed to relaunch the economic reforms which had come to a grinding halt in 1995-96. The government’s fall is only partly attributable to the strength of the Communist Party, which won a plurality of the votes and of parliamentary seats in the February 1999 elections. To be sure, those forty communist seats proved to be a time-bomb under the government’s bench. But the Communists could have been–and, for a time, were–successfully contained by the parties of the ADR, including the Popular Front which initially joined the governing coalition. The PF, however, soon demanded an inordinate share of power as the price of its cooperation, often using its pivotal nine votes to blackmail the other governing parties and finally leaving the ADR (see the Monitor, February 1, 19, March 1, 4, 15, 23).
Although describing itself as right-wing, the Front repeatedly voted with the Communists against the government. That unusual combination came to be dubbed a “monstrous coalition.” While surely unnatural, such cooperation bore rather an intermittent and ad-hoc character. A coalition in the real sense of the term is only now taking shape between the CP and the PF, apparently through Lucinschi’s good offices. Given their relative strength, the PF seems destined for the role of fellow-traveler to the CP and to the president in this combination. To justify its cooperation with the Communists against the government, the Front claims that it meant to cleanse official corruption. But this does not explain why the PF suddenly singled out the reformist government for attack. The Front had for years and until very recently denounced all political forces and leaders without exception as corrupt. It only suspended such attacks for the sake of short-lived tactical arrangements with some particular group or leader. The Front’s present combination with Lucinschi repeats the PF’s 1995-96 alliance with then-president Snegur before those elections. In both cases, the idea is to help the incumbent president win reelection, in return for the president helping the Front to overcome the 5 percent barrier in the next parliamentary elections. Snegur lost the election to Lucinschi, who benefited from Communist support in the runoff. The PF hopes that Communist support will enable Lucinschi to win again and the PF to increase its current, modest share of power on the winners’ coattails.
Lucinschi’s actions are in fact designed to prepare his reelection campaign before the February 2001 presidential race. Disadvantaged by his record in managing the economic crisis–which, in fairness, may have defied any president’s efforts–Lucinschi seeks to highlight the responsibility of the government and the parliamentary majority for the social hardships experienced by the population. He also needs a cabinet of ministers he can control at least to the extent of securing the support of the administrative apparatus in the presidential election. The president wants that new cabinet to consist predominantly of nonparty figures and “technocrats” close to him, to include some Communist and Popular Front ministers and to rely on the newly constituted parliamentary majority of Communists, Frontists and presidential loyalists–a combination he has helped put together (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, November 2-9).
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